This may turn out to be a pretty disjointed post. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 11, vegan since 15 and as such I’ve spoken to many and changed my views on activism throughout the past 10 years. I’ve come to the broad conclusion that people should come to veganism at their own pace, or just cutting down on animal-related consumption if it suits their own moral convictions. Issues are often more complicated than they seem. [For more if you’re interested on that experience see the bottom.*]
I had an eye-opening experience doing a McDonalds demo on Hollywood Blvd some 5 years ago put on by Peta. Most Los Angelinos will know that the people generally on Hollywood Blvd are (1) tourists or (2) people that don’t want to be on Hollywood Blvd (humor!). It’s a hodgepodge of different socio-economic groups, nationalities, and cultures, as are many tourist hot-spots. All in all, it was successful, I would say. However, at one point, this man came up to us and yelled at us for being inconsiderate. He told us that many of the people working on Hollywood and Highland make minimum wage or less, and as such could not afford an option other than McDonalds. We were being disrespectful and condescending in telling him to boycott when he didn’t have a choice. He was right.
There has been movement in the animal rights world to acknowledge wealth injustice and the intersectionality with eating vegan in the past few years. But it’s always important to acknowledge that some people are privileged in their ability to take action – be it conservation or animal welfare/rights – when others have much more to lose. This is something I feel gets lost in the global scale of both of these issues. It’s fair to say that the global North has privilege in the conservation realm that the global South lacks. And, although action is taken, we often push the responsibility to developing countries, push the problems to developing countries while we fail to acknowledge our constant lack of action or continuous problems at home.
A few years ago, as well, a petition and global online protests to end the animal sacrifice tradition in the Gadhimai festival in Nepal (which was successful). Discursively, it’s important to separate hindu and buddhist objections, as well as trade-related objections from India and leaders in India and Nepal and local animal rights groups’ objections, from those of people like Bridgette Bardot or the animal rights organizations of the West. I was increasingly aggravated following the development of this story, just as I was when the Cecil the lion story broke out.
Of course, like anyone who cares about other animals, I was happy people wanted justice for them. However, the fact that oh so many people who fail to see the hypocrisy of simultaneously not dealing with the factory farm industry at home, refusing to cut down their animal consumption, refusing to acknowledge animal sacrifices in their own countries, or hunting that happens at home, hopped on board discomforted me. So much so that I am generally oddly quiet when discussions about people murdering animals in other countries for bushmeat, for money, for ritual, or the unique killings of animals we “love” or consider cute/flagship by Westerners (such as Cecil or any mal-treated pet) even come up with those I know don’t take steps to decrease the carnage they take part in. It’s easier to point out injustice far away or pick and choose which animals are worth saving and dignifying based on being a flagship, “wild”, cute, or whatnot. In the same way, we (as in us westerners) are critical of bushmeat traders, or people who kill animals for the sake of “tradition”/”religion”/”culture” yet we act far worse to the animals we eat and wear – and these we do unnecessarily for the most part (see above). Why are we disgusted with one and not the other? Is it because we idolize nature and wildness, both terms we’ve created? Is it because we are easy to pinpoint other cultures’ abuses as savage while we mechanize our own? Is it not the individual we care about at the hands at the hunter or the slaughter, but the idea of it being wild or an “unnecessary slaughter” instead of domestic or “essential” instead? And is moral superiority of Western culture, from which “wilderness” and secularism derives, still just as prevalent as it has been in its problematic past?
* For some background: I was very militant throughout middle school and high school. (Examples for comedic effect: I told my friend she was eating babies in 6th grade when she ate lamb chops. I told another friend her hamburger was death. That wasn’t taken well. I stopped doing that pretty quickly.) The idea in my teenage mind that people were knowingly a part of a torture and killing machine and continued to act in the same way because “cheese is so good” or “but bacon” or “it’s just fashion” disgusted me. And, although there are more genuine and understandable excuses, the vast majority I’ve heard (even when unprompted) followed that line. Frankly, that idea still disgusts me, but I’ve just gotten used to the fact and respected the fact that I can’t be a moral police nor would it be right to. Even more, that doesn’t work. Morality is subjective, and people will move at their own pace if they think it’s right to at all. You have to come to people on their own terms and respect their decisions and experiences, experiences I failed to see in my early years. What we can do, and what we should do, is just show that it’s possible if someone is willing to change their actions. And if they aren’t, it’s not our responsibility to force them to. One should never antagonize someone for not having the same moral scheme as you. Moreover, acting in a militant way or an antagonizing way pushes people away from the movement and also disregards their subjective experience and views, and potentially health reasons why they may not act in the same way as us. I’d also like to note in case this post has come off as a stereotypical vegan moral rant, that I don’t view myself as better than others — we all have our hypocrisies and we all conform to our own world views.